Tag Archives: Mitchell

Mitchell, SD

Before departing Mitchell, I thought I’d offer a few final observations.

As with so many older towns, there is a historic downtown area, usually just a few blocks in any given direction. Then, as is increasingly common, there is also a “halo” of modern sprawl surrounding the historic district, with all the expected chain restaurants, motels, gas stations, and a sprinkling of shopping malls, though also with local offerings in all categories. And while some of that outlying modernization lacks charm, it does make visiting more convenient.

Main Street, Mitchell, SD

Main Street, Mitchell, SD

Lake Mitchell is on the north side of town. This view is from the Prehistoric Indian Village. And nearby, farmland begins, with the transition from urban to rural taking place fairly quickly.

Lake Mitchell

Lake Mitchell

Should you have a chance to visit, here is a link to the Mitchell Visitors Bureau, to help you plan your stay: http://visitmitchell.com/

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Carnegie Museums and Libraries

Writing a biography of Andrew Carnegie, back when I still worked almost entirely for textbook publishers, I was impressed with how his impoverished youth influenced the way he later spent the huge fortune he earned. He started working at age 12, shortly after his family arrived in the United States in 1848. He was a “bobbin boy” in a weaving factory. He worked hard, but he understood that the most important thing for getting ahead was education. He read constantly and went to night school. The efforts paid off, and he found himself with increasingly important jobs. By his mid-20s, he was superintendant of railways in Pittsburgh. He used his income to invest in new technologies and inventions, including sleeping cars for trains and steel mills. He recognized the potential of steel and bet everything on the belief that steel would become vital in the U.S.—which it did. The Carnegie Steel Company made him fabulously wealthy.

The rags-to-riches story was delightful, but it was what Carnegie did with his money that made him so memorable for me. He believed that “A man who dies rich dies disgraced,” and he set about giving away most of his fortune. He set up charitable agencies, museums, and child-welfare centers, both in the U.S. and the British Isles. He never forgot the lesson of the importance of books and learning, and so much of his fortune went to aiding colleges, funding scientific research, creating museums, and building libraries across the United States, Canada, Britain, and even farther afield—thousands of libraries. (I recently read the wonderful book Up from Slavery, by Booker T. Washington, and learned that Carnegie contributed a library to Tuskegee Institute, as well.)

Today, Carnegie Libraries and Carnegie Museums make up the single largest group of related historic buildings in the country. And why do I mention this here? Because there is a Carnegie Library in Mitchell, SD. The 109-year-old library in Mitchell is now home to a combination of Corn Palace memorabilia and books, tools, mementos, and records tracing the history and genealogy of the Mitchell area. The dome of the library was painted by Oscar Howe, the Sioux artist about whom I posted earlier. The building is also notable for being one of only three surviving buildings in Mitchell built of local red quartzite.

Mitchell-CarnegieLib

Here are two of the many displays, one a memento from the Corn Palace and one about local history—the country’s first flour mill was built here. Note on the poster about the mill the reference to the Jim River—because even in something as serious as a museum display, folks are too laid back up here to call the river by its formal name, the James River.

Mitch-CarnegieLibCP-ad

Mitch-CarnLib-info-first-fl

(And if you get to Carnegie’s hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, don’t miss the Carnegie of Natural History Museum. I posted last year, on my World’s Fare blog, about my favorite part of the museum: the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems.)

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Dakota Discovery Museum—Part 2

The second floor of the museum is an art gallery. A large section is dedicated to Oscar Howe, the Sioux artist I posted about previously. The museum displays bronzes by Remington and Russell, plaster casts of Gutzon Borglum’s miniatures of the faces destined for Mt. Rushmore, work by Western painter Harvey Dunn, and the model created by sculptor James Earle Fraser of his most widely circulated work—the buffalo that graced the buffalo nickel (though the statue End of the Trail is better known, and Washington, D.C. would not look the same if he had not decorated so much of it). For Charles Hargens, there is a display of his art studio, as well as a gallery of original paintings and illustrations. Hargens was best known for recreating the West for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, McCall’s, Boys’ Life, and more (and whose prints and posters you can still buy online).

Through the splendid bookstore, and then outside, where Rod Brown led me and a handful of other visitors through the four historic buildings that have been moved onto the museum’s property. We toured the 125-year-old Methodist Church (still used for special events and weddings), a prairie schoolhouse (the one-room variety), a train depot (Milwaukee Line came through here), and ended up at Beckwith House. This handsome, Victorian confection was built for Louis Beckwith, the enthusiastic booster who got Mitchell to build the original Corn Palace in 1892. Wagons, a tractor, and other memorabilia are scattered around the site, to add to the sense of history. Great fun.

The Old Schoolhouse

The Old Schoolhouse

Beckwith House

Beckwith House

Buckboard Wagon

Buckboard Wagon

If you do find yourself in Mitchell, this is another worthwhile stop.
http://visitmitchell.com/attractions-posts/dakota-discovery-museum/

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Dakota Discovery Museum—Part 1

On the attractive, tree-shaded campus of Dakota Wesleyan University, I located my next destination: the Dakota Discovery Museum. Alas, photography is not allowed inside, so I can’t share the wonderful things I saw within the museum. Fortunately, however, they also collect historic buildings, and those I could photograph—and which you’ll see in the next post.

Inside, my first surprise was a Native American pictograph, painted on buffalo hide, of a battle between Sioux and Crow, painted by the Lakota at Pine Ridge in 1891. The reason it was a surprise is that I’ve seen it in history books, and I really didn’t expect to find it here. (So a pleasant surprise.)

The museum focuses as much on Native American culture as it does on European history in the region. The quillwork was glorious, and it was interesting to see it morph into beadwork, as glass beads became available with the introduction of the fur trade. Walking around the museum, the displays continued to reveal the changing frontier, from Native American to fur trade, pioneer to farmer, growing towns, and into the 20th century. There were a few big items, such as a threshing machine and an old sheep wagon fitted out as a horse-drawn mobile home. However, most exhibits focused on the intimate details of daily life. Wonderful.

Rod Brown, the newly appointed director of the museum, seeing that I appeared to be more than casually glancing at exhibits, introduced himself and began to offer interesting details on the history of South Dakota. On a large map, he pointed out the Missouri River, which I normally associate with Lewis and Clark, but Rod related that this constituted the South Dakota’s “middle border.” People to the east of the river moved here from the East, and those west of the river moved from the West. There are definite cultural differences between the two regions, which are identified by locals as East River and West River. West River tends to be more Wild West. That’s where you have Deadwood, the Badlands, and the Black Hills. There is more tribal influence in West River, and more ranching. East River is more farming, and the landscape is less dramatic. A further designation is Middle Border Country, the land immediately adjacent to the river, on either side. The proximity to the water made this area easier to settle—even before Europeans arrived (hence the Prehistoric Indian Village on the other side of town). It’s a great place for farming, and following the river leads through a lot of handsome farms.

Mitchell is solidly in Middle Border Country, as are most of the Hutterite Colonies founded here. The largest ethnic groups to settle Middle Border Country were Germans and Norwegians, though there were also settlers from Bohemia, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland. So a remarkably diverse area.

Then time to head upstairs.

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Prehistoric Indian Village—Archeodome

The Archeodome is a building that encloses a significant part of the dig site for the Prehistoric Indian Village. This enclosure means that digging can take place at any time, and it doesn’t have to be covered every time archaeologists leave, to protect the artifacts. While they don’t have the money (one docent told me) to have a year-round archaeologist, if one wished to work year round, he or she could.

Inside the Archeodome

Inside the Archeodome

The dig site (which is more extensive than what you can see here) is set up with the laboratory right next to it. There is a display of tools used in archaeology, signs that explain the layers and what has been found, and the site itself. A winding ramp leads up from the ground floor to a second floor filled with exhibits, artifacts, and more informational signs. With 1.5 million artifacts already dug up here, the hard part is narrowing down what you want to show. They’ve done a good job.

Chipped-stone Utensils

Chipped-stone Utensils

Bone Utensils

Bone Utensils

I was delighted to see extensive information on corn and its importance to Native Americans, along with maps showing the original “Corn Belt” in 1450. In my book and in the presentation I give on the history of corn, I mention something called pod corn. Corn mutates easily—which is, in fact, how it came into existence—but not all mutations are equally successful as, say, sweet corn and popcorn. Pod corn is actually pretty close to useless. No one grows it commercially, with its chief virtue being in its genetic material—plus it looks cool. Every single kernel in this odd corn variety has its own husk, plus the whole ear has a husk, as well. When I’m speaking about corn, I describe it as looking like someone tried to make an ear of corn out of straw. Do you think this actual ear of pod corn matches my description?

SD-IndVill-podcorn2-

If you’re visiting Mitchell, and you want to see more than just the Corn Palace, I think this should definitely be on your list. Here’s more info, if you need it.  http://mitchellindianvillage.com/

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Prehistoric Indian Village Museum

Despite the fact that this is a National Historic Landmark, you may discover that your GPS can’t get you to this place. Fortunately, if you just drive north on Main St. a couple of miles from the Corn Palace, you’ll see a sign at 23rd Avenue (left turn if you’re heading north), and that will at least direct you to the right road: Indian Village Road. Turn right at Indian Village Road and drive until you see a parking lot on the right, with a few signs suggesting that something is nearby.

Hike down the hill, past information signs with Native American symbols and some very interesting information, cross a little bridge over an inlet of lovely Lake Mitchell, and follow the path up the low hill on the far side. This will bring you to the Prehistoric Indian Village Museum. It’s worth the small effort required to find the place.

What you will reach first is the museum, where you will be introduced to the culture of the people who inhabited this point of land around AD 900–1000. There is a short, excellent movie on the people who once inhabited this area, followed by a docent-led tour, and then you can explore on your own. It is not a large museum, but the exhibits are rich with artifacts and information. Roughly 1.5 million artifacts have been found at this sight, and many of them are on display in the museum. A full-size reconstructed lodge, like the ones that housed the original inhabitants, offers insight into what living conditions were like.

Inside-hut-2

Wood poles make up the roof of the lodge, and it was these that eventually required that the people move. There is very little wood on the Great Plains, so after about 100 years, there was no source of wood left, so the people migrated northward. It is thought that they were the ancestors of the Mandan, people who hosted Lewis and Clark when they arrived a few hundred years later.

Abundant maps and signs help establish where people settled and how they moved around, where languages originated, and what trade goods passed through.

SD-IndVil-info-language-NAm

The people who lived here were part of a vast trading network. The patterns on the pottery can be traced to Cahokia in Illinois. Only broken pots have been found, however, because they would have taken unbroken pots with them when they moved.

The trade good that was produced here appears to have been pemmican, a handy “energy bar” made of dried meat (generally bison), dried berries, and fat, that was great for travel or to get through a rough winter. The evidence that suggests this as an important trade good includes a disproportionately large number of broken buffalo bones—far more than could be consumed by the people in the village—along with equipment and supplies that would be used in creating pemmican.

Evidence of pemmican making

Evidence of pemmican making

Corn had come north with these people, as well as squash and beans, and these were in evidence in the exhibit, as were tools used in farming these crops. A hoe made of the shoulder blade of a bison and a rake made of deer antlers were propped up near the lodge, and it struck me that they looked remarkably like tools used in so many other parts of the world, both then and now.

Lots more to learn and see, but I figure I had better leave something for you to discover on your own. Off next to the Archeodome, across the broad, green lawns that border Mitchell Lake.

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Corny Town

While there are interesting things to do and see in Mitchell other than visiting the Corn Palace (things I shall post on shortly), there is a definite focus on corn in town. After all, there are other places with good museums and interesting archaeological sites, but there is only one Corn Palace.

The first thing I noticed, as I rounded the corner on my first visit to the Corn Palace, was that the decoration cast into the base of all streetlights is an ear of corn.

Mitch-CornLamp

Across the street from the Corn Palace, there is a gift store that has displays about how the murals are created. In the open courtyard area adjacent to that gift store, there is a large, cheerful ear of corn named Cornelius. I was told that almost everyone who comes to Mitchell gets their photo taken with Cornelius, and even as I waited for a chance to take an unobstructed view of this corny mascot, I was repeatedly asked to take photos of visitors posing with Cornelius (which I was, of course, happy to do).

Cornelius-

So the Corn Palace may be the corniest thing in town, but clearly the whole town appreciates what this iconic and historic building has meant, not just in terms of tourism, but in its representation of the agriculture that built and sustains the region.

And if you have any interest in visiting the Corn Palace (it’s right off the highway, so easy to access even if you’re just passing through), you can get more info on their website: http://cornpalace.com/

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